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Where to Gather Outdoors in New Jersey
Ocean Casino Resort outdoor pool, Atlantic City. Credit: Jeff Heilman
In May, “with COVID-19 numbers trending decisively in the right direction and New Jersey progressing toward its adult-age vaccination goals,” Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state would start easing gathering restrictions in two phases.
Predicated on no “unexpected uptick in COVID-19 numbers” and maintaining the six-foot distancing rule, the second phase, which went into effect May 19, includes allowing up to 250 people for conferences, catered events and similar indoor events; raising the capacity limit for 1,000-plus fixed seating at indoor venues to 30%; and lifting all outdoor gathering limits.
As New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted in the official release, “the good weather allowing more outdoor activities” is another basis for the measured reopening.
From the coast to the countryside, the Garden State makes social distancing a breeze. Following are some of the many outdoor venues to take advantage of New Jersey’s warm weather months.
Room to Relax in Atlantic City
Commanding the upper tip of Absecon Island on the world-famous Jersey Shore, Atlantic City offers plenty of outdoor space for attendees to spread their wings.
“Several factors have positioned Atlantic City for a swift and strong group comeback,” said Meet AC President & CEO Larry Sieg. “These include our drive market accessibility, which puts us within reach of one-third of the U.S. population, and the way our restaurants and business owners pivoted in 2020. They were tremendously creative during the peak of COVID-19, while adhering to the required safety guidelines. And surrounded by our pristine beaches, Atlantic Ocean and everchanging skyline, our flexible outdoor venues are imperative to our continued recovery and growth.
“Meet AC is dedicated to helping you find the right space and create meaningful meetings together,” here are choice open-air environments for safe, rejuvenating gatherings,” he added.
As MPI World Education Congress 2016, attendees will remember Atlantic City’s expansive white-sand beaches are made to measure for opening night and other parties. Properties with beach space include Tropicana Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City; Meet AC can help coordinate citywide collaborations.
Located on a back bay channel near the Boardwalk’s northern end, Historic Gardner’s Basin is for ocean-going fun with Atlantic City Cruises. Year-round programs aboard the 100-capacity U.S. Coast Guard-certified Crusin 1 include meetings, company outings and sightseeing tours.
Jutting 1,000-feet into the Atlantic Ocean, legendary Steel Pier offers the Ocean Reef Oasis and Waterside Pavilion for events, catering and beverages included. Signature amusement park rides include the group-capable 227-foot-tall Wheel, with 40 climate-controlled gondolas and reception area at its base.
Located at Resorts Casino Atlantic City, LandShark Bar & Grill is the only year-round full-service bar and restaurant on the beach side of the Boardwalk. Beach access is included with 650-capacity buyouts.
Outdoor venues at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City include the DAER Nightclub deck; Balcony Bar; Fish and Co. restaurant; and Hard Rock Beach Bar on the sand. Each venue has a 200-person capacity.
At Ocean Casino Resort, the three-acre outdoor Sky Garden offers various configurations for large-scale outdoor receptions. Located on the resort’s 11th floor, the landscaped area features sweeping ocean views. Scenic, too, are the sky-high event-capable outdoor pools and cabanas.
Marina District groups can book the outdoor pool and connected Beer Garden at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa for 500-capacity receptions.
Outdoor options at bayside Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City Hotel & Casino include the Waterfront Conference Center parking complex; Baywalk at Harrah’s, and sun deck adjoining the domed Pool at Harrah’s.
Farms, Gardens and Other Outdoor Stages
While Joseph Gerish is a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, his Born To Run venue was originated by his grandparents in 1978 as a family getaway and racehorse training facility. Today, his 130-acre mountain-top property, located in picturesque Hunterdon County about 70 miles west of New York City, is available for 250-capacity tented outdoor corporate and celebratory events. Enhancements include a host of barnyard friends and cinematic sunsets.
Speaking of Springsteen, the “Boss” was one of several New Jersey music legends, along with Jon Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and bandmate Stevie Van Zandt who got their early chops down at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Steps from the Boardwalk, the world-famous rock shrine hosts indoor and outdoor events, including the Summer Stage series.
The nearby boutique Asbury Hotel offers 4,800 square feet of stylish indoor and outdoor space in the Asbury Hall & Terrace. Other outdoor spaces include the rooftop lounge Salvation.
Unfolding across 42 landscaped acres in highway-accessible Hamilton, Grounds for Sculpture is a place of multidimensional wonder and inspiration. Docent-led tours and art-driven teambuilding programs showcase eye-catching installations, including giant outdoor sculptural figures and life-size recreations of famed Impressionist paintings in all-natural settings. Outdoor rentals include the 300-capacity Nine Muses, complemented by versatile indoor spaces.
Restored and Rejuvenated, the Meadowlands Are for Ecotourism
Bounded by the Hudson and Passaic Rivers to the east and west, and George Washington Bridge and Statue of Liberty to the north and south, the Meadowlands region has a fascinating ecological history.
Shaped by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier around 12,000 years ago, these tidal lands were originally forested with Atlantic white cedars and roamed by Mastodons. Deforestation by colonists gave rise to farms of salt hay and marsh grass, hence the namesake “meadow” lands. Later industrial and manufacturing use, compounded by notorious illegal dumping, blighted the area.
In 1969, the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission was formed to oversee conscientious development balanced with protecting nature. Since it was rolled up into the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the agency has triumphed on both fronts.
Major economic engines include the Meadowlands Sports Complex. Here, groups have 82,000-seat MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets and headliner concerts; Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment, offering versatile outdoor space; and new American Dream mega-entertainment and retail venue.
On the environmental front, 3,400-plus acres of restored wetlands are home to 280-plus local and migratory bird species, including 34 on New Jersey’s endangered list, and marine wildlife. Twenty county parks, several with water access, plus country clubs and public golf courses, further the Meadowlands’ unique outdoor appeal.
“We have this ecological jewel and center of ecotourism right in the heart of the New Jersey-NYC corporate corridor,” said Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of the Meadowlands CVB. “For groups, that means bountiful outdoor recreational, teambuilding and sporting activities, from birding and boating to golf and biking.”
Likening the area to “Central Park’s big sibling,” Kirkos also extolled access and abundant lodging as major advantages.
“Our road network, with major thoroughfares including the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and I-80, makes the Meadowlands easy to reach and easy to navigate,” Kirkos said. “We also offer more than 10,000 hotel rooms at various price points.”
Convenient mass transit options into Midtown Manhattan include rail service into Penn Station from Secaucus, just 10 minutes away.
“The Meadowlands sits next to the greatest city in the world, which only enhances our panache as a region,” Kirkos added.
Unique activities include Eco-Cruises aboard specially rigged 30-foot pontoon boats operated by Hackensack Riverkeeper. Set against restored wetlands and the Hackensack River with Manhattan skyline views, Skyway Golf Course at Lincoln Park West hosts golf outings for up to 72 players.
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